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Almost two and a half years ago, I wrote the 150-word application essay that eventually got me into Duke. On a whim, I decided against writing about how Duke was worlds apart from the other elite institutions. Instead I ranted about life, about the difficulties of growing up in a society that only seemed to value subjects like science, engineering, and business. I talked about my unwavering love for the humanities, literature, foreign languages, history, and how perhaps, a Liberal Arts university like Duke would free me from those suffocating social norms.

It didn’t take long for me to realize my outright naiveté. While I looked forward to college as an intellectual playground (which it can certainly sometimes be), I soon found out that Duke was nothing short of being pre-professional. There are only five available paths, instead of the infinite possibilities that I envisioned: finance, tech, engineering, pre-med, pre-law. Outside of the already rigorous academic workload and demanding social life that Duke students lead, everything else has to serve the purpose of planning out the perfect (read: lucrative) career from the second they step on campus, from professional organizations, clubs to networking sessions. Freshmen worry about not getting an internship for the summer, which they believe will lead to future summers without internships, leading to unemployment and “ultimate failure”. They compete with each other as if the job one lands on at graduation was the divine finish line of a 16-year pre-professional marathon (or sprint, for that matter).

Despite my realizations, I ended up majoring in Economics: a brutal slap in my own face. I coupled it with the International Comparative Studies major, a program completely antagonistic to Economics and one of the most leftist departments on campus. I also added a history minor, and rationalized it with my interest in economic philosophy and history, as well as political economy. When others ask about my major, I discreetly put the ICS in front of Economics. I would somehow rather be perceived as a hyper-liberal humanities student with no hard skills than a clichéd aspiring investment banker. I feel a strange need to defend myself. I explain eagerly why I am not like other Econ majors, and how I wish to use it to gain insight in social issues like development and inequality.

I almost convinced myself.

The truth was that, after all, I was afraid. I was afraid that, my passion for the humanities was not “solid” enough. I was afraid what having a non-quantitative based undergraduate career meant for some sort of unknown game of survival. I was afraid that I somehow put my mathematical abilities to waste. I was afraid that my idealistic, boxed Millennial vision drastically misaligned with reality outside the Duke Bubble. I was afraid that my naiveté would soon be defeated again, by the harsh reality of being an international student without the privilege to “figure things out” before being literally kicked out at Optional Practical Training visa expiration. Opportunities are more than scarce. Firms and organizations in the US simply have no reason to incur extra costs to sponsor a visa instead of hiring a local with the same skills. In the meantime, I am equally unwanted back in Canada, where local graduates are highly prioritized, and post-secondary programs highly specialized.

And so I became pre-law. It felt like a kind of commitment to my love for the social sciences and humanities, and a way to escape from everything pre-professional that haunts me at Duke and further my academic pursuits. At least I can avoid certain questions for another few years and only focus on school, I thought.

Escapism came first. Rationales came after.

Interning at a corporate law firm last summer in Shanghai made me disillusioned. Being a lawyer in real life could not be more different than that in an episode of Suits. Litigators represent a miniscule part of legal practice, while the majority of lawyers sit at their desks, fine-tuning words and phrases to the extreme, dealing with paperwork after paperwork, and working inhumane hours. Dade Legal Aid, on the other hand, did reignite some of that hope in finding meaning in a legal career. Seeing the concrete impact that attorneys and staff have on the most vulnerable parts of the population, especially domestic violence victims, is so empowering. As I envision myself working at a place like this, I imagine going home every day with some sense of fulfillment, some internal affirmation that I am creating value. But I still waver. What if this fulfillment from work is overshadowed by financial realities, especially after spending horrifying amounts of money on law school? What if I eventually decide to start a family? Would impact legislation and advocacy be more effective in making structural change than direct client representation? How does that career look? Is incurring structural change too ambitious?

Being any type of successful lawyer also poses a threat to mental well-being. This week, Bella and I were told multiple times that the legal community is mourning the renowned Miami-based civil lawyer Ervin Gonzalez who committed suicide earlier this month. The only fortunate part is that the community is finally having a long-overdue conversation about mental health. Today, we were also invited to attend the Federal Court Observer Program. In a room full of bright-eyed law students and young associates dressed up in business formal attire, the seasoned lawyers and judges half-jokingly responded to the “work-life balance” question with, “But there is none!” One woman said, “Always prioritize the mission of your firm and organization; don’t let your other hobbies and interests get in the way too much.” Another lawyer advised the crowd to worry more about establishing their reputations as a competent lawyers in their first few years, rather than worrying about work-life balance.

I sat in silence.

Despite all this chaos, at least one thing struck me at the age of nineteen: what we have been told for our whole lives is a complete myth. Find what you truly enjoy, they said. Find your passion, they said. But what if I don’t have one? There is a vague pattern to my academic and career interests, but my curiosity has never confined itself to one single discipline. The one true calling narrative is like that of one true love. You would come across that specific person and miraculously live happily ever after. The story ends at the moment where the protagonists meet. What happens after lies in obscurity. Do they find out that the partner is not precisely what they imagined? Do they experience fights, conflicts, compromises and reconciliation? Do they consciously invest in the relationship? Do they create meaning rather than anticipating intrinsic meaning? The epilogue of this fairy tale might be closer to reality of both romantic love and work. Perhaps I will change the world. Perhaps I won’t even be a tiny bit close. Perhaps I will waver restlessly between values. Perhaps I will become more and more like the average adult with an inventory of relinquished dreams, someone I once swore I would never become. But as I navigate through adulthood, I will at least relieve myself of the burden of seeking the meant-to-be.